PANAMA CITY — With the new year comes new resolutions — or broken resolutions revisited.
Chef Jessica Bright helped Julie Hadden, runner up on NBC’s “Biggest Loser, Season 4,” transform her favorite foods into something healthier without sacrificing flavor.
“Julie was a self-admitted junk food junkie,” said Jessica, who met Julie in Jacksonville. “I had this weekly radio show in Jacksonville, ‘The Promise’ — a popular Christian radio station, every Tuesday morning for seven years straight. Julie lived in Jacksonville and listened to the show. After she did so well and was writing this book, she asked if I’d consider doing recipes.”
By the season finale, Julie had lost 45 percent of her body weight. Jessica contributed 16 recipes to Julie’s book, “Fat Chance: Losing the Weight, Gaining My Worth,” which was published in December 2009. (See more about Julie and the book at JulieHadden.com.)
“I love cooking creatively and coming up with solutions,” said Jessica, who relocated to Panama City in August.
The Quick and Easy Pita Pizzas recipe, along with others such as Not-Fried Okra, appears in “Fat Chance.”
“I knew from our conversations about food that pizza was one of Julie's favorite things to eat,” Jessica said. “The first time I cooked for her family, I made them do all the work. I prepped all of the ingredients and had them over to make their own grilled pizzas with whole-wheat pizza dough. Julie was really not into cooking, but her son, Noah, enjoyed the pizza we made so much that the recipe soon became a family favorite in the Hadden household. However, Julie modified things a little so she could get in and out of the kitchen faster with the use of pitas instead of fresh pizza dough.”
Jessica also is acknowledged in Devin Alexander’s “The Biggest Loser Dessert Cookbook: More than 80 Healthy Treats That Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth without Breaking Your Calorie Budget” for lending a number of ideas.
“A lot of times I think we’re eating because we want something to do with our mouths,” Jessica said as we walked through Publix on 23rd Street.
One solution she has come up with is drinking more water.
“I prefer sparkling water or water that has been infused with fruit,” she said. “A lot of people out there know you need to drink more water, but don’t like it. LaCroix is my indulgence.”
The sparkling water can be added to wine to make it lighter or more refreshing, she said, or to juice to cut calories — “it dresses it up.”
Jessica stays away from anything with artificial sweeteners and pays close attention to labels.
“Whole grains are often thrown out as a teaser, bait,” Jessica said. “My favorite bread is so natural you have to freeze it.”
Her bread of choice is Food for Life Ezekiel Bread 4:19 with the No. 1 ingredient of organic sprouted wheat and no preservatives.
“A lot of people who have reservations about healthy food have not experienced it the way it was intended to be served. Vine-ripened tomatoes fresh from the farm are really bursting with a whole lot of flavor,” said Jessica, who grew up on a small farm in southeastern North Carolina. “Fresh, crunchy vegetables make a wonderful substitute for chips. If you want something salty, go for natural nuts, not processed in oil.”
And if you are looking for something sweet, other than just fruit, Bright suggests Nutella served with whole wheat pita bread.
“It’s like a chocolate hazelnut truffle,” she said. “I also have a kale smoothie that is good, and they are so trendy now.”
For more of her recipes, visit CookingBright.com.
Quick and Easy Pita Pizzas
For two pizzas you will need:
1 whole wheat pita
Non-stick baking spray
3 tablespoons tomato sauce
½ teaspoon siracha Asian chili sauce (optional)
¼ teaspoon honey
½ cup low-fat Italian cheese blend grated cheese
Turkeypepperoni, if desired
fresh chopped vegetables
2 tablespoons fresh chopped basil
Crushed chili pepper (optional garnish)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees, Separate the top from the bottom of the pita to create two equal circles. Place both circles on a baking sheet sprayed with non-stick baking spray (smooth side down). Combine the tomato sauce, siracha, and sugar for a spicy sweet sauce. Spread this on your pitas then top with the Italian cheese blend and pepperoni. Place in oven and bake for about 10 minutes until cheese is melted and crust is toasted. Top with fresh basil and chili pepper, if desired.
Source: Jessica Bright (recipe appears in “Fat Chance” by Julie Hadden)
Emerald Green Smoothie
3 handfuls of organic kale leaves, well rinsed
1 small tart green apple (granny smith), quartered and seeded
1 ripe pear
1 handful of sweet red grapes
tiny pinch of sea salt
about 3 tablespoons of peeled ginger root, sliced thin
1 cup water
2 cups ice
Combine all ingredients in a really powerful blender (I use my Vitamix) and blend until smooth. Add more water/ice/honey, if needed. Yield two servings.
Source: Jessica Bright
- Shopping: Stay on the perimeter of grocery store (or read labels) and visit local farmers’ markets.
- Plain Greek yogurt: Use this as a substitute for sour cream or sweeten with fresh berries, nuts or honey.
- Tomatoes: Do not refrigerate tomatoes, unless they have been cut, as it significantly changes the flavor.
- Green onions: Peel off outer layer, wash and use the whole thing — from white to the green.
- Garlic: Get the smell off your hands by rubbing them on stainless steel, such as along the sink or a spoon.